SPEAKER 1: An American in the Royal Canadian Air Force attached to the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot, David Fairbanks received the Distinguished Flying Cross three times. Post-war, he served de Havilland Canada in promotion and development of the company's Dash 7 airliner and other short takeoff and landing aircraft. Born in the United States at Ithaca, New York on August 22, 1922 to his parents Helen and Frank, David had one brother, Thaddeus, and a Sister, Caroline.
After graduating from Ithaca High School in 1940, at age 18, David joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He thus became an American in a Canadian Air Force uniform when he enlisted with the RCAF at Hamilton, Ontario in February, 1941. In Toronto at Number 1 Manning Depot at the Canadian National Exhibition Fairground Equine Building, David was selected for flying training. And on July 1, 1941, at Victoriaville, Quebec, in Sacred Heart College, he was posted to Number 3 Initial Training School of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. At number 21 Elementary Flying Training School at Chatham, New Brunswick, he learned to fly in Fleet Finch biplanes.
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David received his pilot's wings on November 21, 1941 at Number 9 Service Flying Training School at Summerside, Prince Edward Island. With his skill as a pilot, he qualified as a flying instructor at Central Flying School at Trenton, Ontario and then instructed young airmen at St. Hubert, Quebec until April 1943.
Next he was shipped to England, attached to the Royal Air Force, and promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant with 501 Squadron RAF to fly Spitfires. On June 9, 1944, he destroyed a German Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter aircraft and damaged another. All his other victories were scored while flying a Hawker tempest during the rest of his combat experience.
SPEAKER 2: The Tempest 5 is one of Britain's latest blows at Nazidom. She embodies all the best features of the Typhoon. And her redesigned wing and later Saber engine give her outstanding performance at all altitudes.
SPEAKER 1: While flying a Tempest with 274 Squadron in August 1944, Fairbanks destroyed the first of two Buzz Bombs, which were developed for attacks on London. In November, 1944, David's aircraft was severely damaged and burned. But he landed the aircraft safely at his base and was awarded his first Distinguished Flying Cross.
Two more 109s were shot down by David Fairbanks during the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944. In January, 1945, Fairbanks shot down five more aircraft, including a Focke-Wulfe Fw-190 fighter. In 1945, David Fairbanks was promoted to Squadron Leader and returned to 274 Squadron, for which he assumed command on February 9. And two days later, he shot down a twin-engined Arado 234, the world's first jet bomber.
In February, 1945, David was shot up in his Tempest, bailed out, and taken as a prisoner of war until he was liberated by Allied troops. Repatriated to Canada in 1945, on July 7, David Fairbanks was awarded the DFC for the third time. By war's end, he had destroyed 15 enemy aircraft. He was 22 years old.
Back home at Ithaca, New York, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1950 from Cornell University. He returned to Canada, in Montreal, where he worked on the city's Champlain Bridge project for one year as an engineer. While in Montreal, he joined RCAF Auxiliary Squadron 401 flying Harvards and Canadair Silver Star and de Havilland Vampire jets.
With Sperry Gyroscope Company of Canada, he was transferred to the United Kingdom, flying Gloster Meteors and F-86 jet aircraft for an RCAF auxiliary squadron. David returned to Canada in 1955, joining de Havilland Aircraft of Canada as a test pilot and flew the first flight of de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou and was a demonstration pilot and promoter of de Havilland's short takeoff and landing aircraft, including the Beaver, the Twin Otter, the Buffalo, and the Caribou at countries around the world.
He was involved in certification of de Havilland's DHC-7, known as the Dash 7, produced from 1975 until 1988 when de Havilland Canada was purchased by Boeing and later sold to Bombardier.
Shortly after the roll out of the Dash 7, David died of a heart attack at age 52. Three times the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, in 1976, he was named to Canada's most prestigious aviation award, the Trans-Canada McKee Trophy, largely in recognition of his contribution to the development of Canada's short takeoff and landing aircraft technology.
David Charles Fairbanks, a war hero and a captain of industry, was survived by his second wife, Betty. He was inducted as a member of Canada's aviation hall of fame on May 16, 2019.
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A look at the impact mechanical engineering alumnus David Charles Fairbanks ’50 had as a decorated World War II pilot and a developer of aviation technology in Canada. In May 2019, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.
Credit: John Chalmers/Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame